I've done minor computer upgrades before, but have for years wanted to do a custom build so I can have exactly what I want and nothing I don't. Sadly, this is a hard combination to find in the prebuilt market, so all the more reason to go custom. So here it is.
Speaking to use cases, I came into this wanting to at the very least comfortably run Visual Studio, Photoshop, and Lightroom, do virtualization, and the other typical computer uses.
I'm not a big gamer, but do want to be able to comfortably play Starcraft 2, Civilization 5, and the recent Might and Magic Heroes games on medium or better settings. I already use a 1920x1280 LCD monitor, but would like to move up to a dual-screen setup in the future.
I sourced the GPU from gpuShack.com, a retailer of refurbished video cards. The pricing was decent - computer part pricing is awful in Canada.
The case has room for two fans at the front to act as intake. I filled the lower spot with a Phanteks 140mm fan - connected to a fan header on the mobo - to bring cool air in. I'm uncertain whether to add a similar one to the upper spot. I'll watch CPU temperatures for a while to determine if an extra fan would be beneficial. If so I'll likely use a fan splitter to connect both front fans to the same header on the mobo.
I added a strip of LED lights at the front of the case so I (and others) can see my creation. I went a little bit further by adding Silverstone's shrouded cable extensions to keep the PSU cables out of sight. Certainly not an essential component, but it adds a finishing touch.
With everything in place and Windows up and running (that may have been the fastest Windows install I have ever seen) I ran some benchmarking tools. The stable includes 3dMark, Cinebench, PerformanceTest, and Unigine Heaven. The results show that it's a pretty solid system, though not top shelf, especially not in graphics.
The bottom line
I'm really pleased with the result of this project. I have a way better computer than one I could have just bought, and one that is more upgradeable too. It easily handles my current needs, and has room to improve in the graphics department with a newer video card. A core upgrade (CPU+mobo+RAM) will be more involved, and is likely at least a couple years away. But the current setup is very capable.
I have been wondering how I might have done differently - what if I used this mobo instead, or what about a better GPU, etc. But I feel that I've done pretty well for my current and forseeable future needs, and so will just watch and learn from sites such as this to be better able to plan future builds or upgrades.
In the interest of not making this build any more complex than it needed to be, and to keep costs down, I deliberately chose to eschew overclocking, dual-GPU, and liquid-cooling setups. In part because I don't really need dual GPUs right now, and in part because i want stability rather than fiddling with timings and voltages (hence the Xeon). That also helped me avoid the need for an aftermarket CPU cooler, though I'm not sure there's enough room for one as it is.
I've had some requests for system temps. I ran a few of my common use scenarios and wrote down the CPU temperatures. The results, in degrees C:
- Idle: 34
- Chrome, Youtube, text editor: 40
- Visual Studio compiling a 6-project solution: 42
- Starcraft 2: 53
- Lightroom exporting 89 images: 61
I collected a few spot temps for each and averaged them to get the results here.
Doesn't seem too bad. I'll keep monitoring, and if temps start getting higher in other use cases I may consider a better cooler to keep temps down.
Very straightforward, though the BIOS isn't easy on the eyes. A bit short on features, but then it's a budget board.
The case was a delight to work in. No rough edges, numerous cable management loops, the simple exterior design. I love the use of a basement to hide the power supply and resultant cables. Very sleek and minimal exterior.
Reliable so far. Semi-modular is nice. Includes 2 sata cables and 2 molex.
A semi-modular PSU is nice in that rather than having a huge mess of cables to deal with, there's just a smaller mess of cables to manage. Next time I buy a PSU I'll probably pay a bit more for a fully-modular unit.
Quiet. Comes with a nice kit - cables and mounting options. Has rubber pads at the corners to reduce vibrations.